Eschatology


My friend, William Arnold, once made an observation about “the rapture” that is worth sharing.

The debate over the timing of the rapture in relationship to the second coming of Christ presupposes that the rapture and the second coming are both events, and then seeks to determine when each event will take place in relationship to the other. Is that a valid presupposition? Does the Bible describe the rapture as an event?

The only clear passage in Scripture that describes a rapturing of the church is 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. Paul wrote:

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

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Would you still be a Christian if there was a heaven, but no hell?

Imagine for a moment that God set up reality differently, such that people could be as bad as they wanted without any risk of eternal punishment.  When you die, you simply cease to exist.  However, if you follow Jesus, heaven still awaits you.  Would you still follow Jesus?  Be honest.  I encourage you to take five minutes to reflect on this question before reading on below.

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Part of our theodicy for the problem of evil includes the point that it was logically impossible for God to create a world in which humans enjoyed free will (a good thing), and yet were unable to use that freedom to choose evil as well as the good. I accept that as true, and yet Christianity proclaims there is coming a day in which there will be a world consisting of humans with libertarian free-will, who will never choose evil: heaven. The future hope of Christians seems to undermine one of the central premises in our theodicy. Can this be reconciled?

Some have suggested that we will not sin in heaven because we’ll be in the beatific presence of God. Presumably, the angels exist in the beatific presence of God, and yet many of the angels chose to rebel against God in that state. This alone, then, cannot explain why humans won’t sin in heaven.

Others have suggested that we will not sin in heaven because God will glorify our humanity. But this is not a solution; it is an admission of the problem. Glorification is being put forward, not to show that such a world cannot exist, but rather to explain how it will become a reality. If in the future God is able—through glorification—to make human beings such that they have free will, and yet will not choose evil, then it falsifies the claim that God cannot create a world in which humans enjoy libertarian free will, and yet never choose evil. Indeed, He will do so in the future. In light of such, we might ask why God did not do this from the onset. Why didn’t He create humans in a glorified state to begin with, if glorified humans can exercise free will and yet not choose evil?

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twinkling-of-eyeThose who espouse to a pretribulation view of the rapture typically hold that the rapture will be “secret,” in the sense that no unbeliever will witness the event because it happens so quickly.  The Scriptural justification for this view is said to be 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

If this passage teaches a secret rapture of the church, it would be unique among the raptures recorded in Scripture.  All other raptures were witnessed by those who remained on the Earth.  Enoch was raptured to heaven (Gen5:24). While we are not told of any particular person who witnessed the event, it must have been witnessed by someone, otherwise people could not have known that God took him.  Elijah’s rapture was witnessed by Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-12).  Jesus’ rapture was witnessed by the apostles (Acts 1:9-11).  The rapture of the Two Witnesses will be witnessed by their enemies (Rev 11:3-12).  Why would all other raptures in the Bible be public, but the rapture of the church be secret?  If we could develop any Biblical precedent for the speed of the church’s rapture, it would appear that it will be slow enough for others to witness it.

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Story of ChristianityMuch of the Bible is written in narrative form.  It tells a story – a true story, but a story nonetheless.  There is a lot of information in the Bible to digest, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture.  So how does one put it all together?  What is the essence of the Biblical story?  What is the basic story line from Genesis to Revelation?  Various attempts have been to condense the major themes and events in the Bible into a coherent, terse story line.  Here is my attempt to arrange the puzzle pieces into a clear picture, such as it is.  I hope it will tie together some loose ends that may exist in your mind and offer you a bird’s-eye view of the greatest story ever told: (more…)

jesus-coming-soonBen Witherington III has argued that references to Jesus returning “soon” are based on a mistranslation of en taxei. Rather than referring to when Jesus will come (soon), it refers to how Jesus will come when He does (quickly).  This is important to claims that the NT teaches that Jesus was expected to return in the first century, or the expectation of a pre-tribulation return of Christ.

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[1]Ben Witherington III, “’En Taxei’ – Quickly or Soon?”; available from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2015/01/25/en-taxei-quickly-or-soon/; Internet; accessed 17 February 2015.

I’ve heard a lot of atheists hypothesize that one of the reasons religion was invented was because people had to manage their fear of death.  If people believe that they will continue to live on in some fashion after death, it mitigates their fear of death.  Can the fear of death explain the origin of religion, or the origin of religious faith in people today?  Perhaps, but three points should be made.  

First, not all religions include conscious existence beyond the grave.  For example, in many Eastern religions absorption into the One (personal extinction) is the end of all things.  Clearly immortality is not the motivation for those religions and religious practitioners.  

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We’re still here, and Harold Camping is still a false teacher.  I wonder what his excuse will be this time for his failed prediction.

It appears that Harold Camping has gone the way of so many other false prophets in spiritualizing his false prediction.  The AP quoted Camping as saying, “”We’ve always said May 21 was the day, but we didn’t understand altogether the spiritual meaning.  The fact is there is only one kind of people who will ascend into heaven … if God has saved them they’re going to be caught up.”  The AP added, “The globe will be completely destroyed in five months, he said, when the apocalypse comes. But because God’s judgment and salvation were completed on Saturday, there’s no point in continuing to warn people about it, so his network will now just play Christian music and programs until the final end on Oct. 21.”  How convenient.

I wonder what his excuse will be when 10-21 comes and goes without incident?

I’m sure you’ve heard about it.  Harold Camping has predicted that judgment day is tomorrow, May 21.  He and his followers are expecting the rapture to happen, but it won’t.  Unfortunately, many Christians’ hopes will be dashed, and some will probably give up their faith in Christ.  His followers should have learned from his first false prediction that the Lord would return in 1994 that Camping is a false prophet.

I would love to hear Camping’s radio program on Monday.  What kind of calls is he going to get?  I would imagine that he’d receive calls from irate followers who spent their life savings to advertise “the end” Camping predicted and guaranteed.  There will be irate callers who racked up their credit cards in expectation that they would never have to pay them back.  There will be scoffers who just want to rub it in his face.  It’s my understanding that the day after his 1994 prediction failed, Camping acted like nothing happened on his radio show.  Perhaps he’ll do the same again.  Or perhaps he’ll decide it’s time to retire.  Hopefully the latter.

Al Mohler has written a good piece on the doctrine of hell.  He details the steps by which the doctrine has become liberalized in many churches:

  1. It ceases to be discussed
  2. It is revised and retained in a reduced form
  3. It is subject to ridicule
  4. The doctrine is reformulated (annihilationism, etc.)

I would add a possible fifth step as well: The doctrine is denied.

This same pattern can be applied to the liberalization of any Biblical doctrine.  We must be on guard so as not to follow this pattern.  The best way to guard against it is to preach and teach on the full spectrum of Biblical doctrines, rather than focusing on a handful and ignoring others.  In general, what ceases to be taught ceases to be believed.

Mohler also had some challenging words on the tendency to lament, or apologize for the doctrine of hell.  As Mohler describes it, there are Bible believing Christians who will affirm that the Bible teaches the doctrine of hell, but admit they do not like the doctrine and wish it were not true.  I think we’ve all been there, and understandably so.  But Mohler raises some good points against this disposition:

What does this say about God? What does this imply about God’s truth? Can a truth clearly revealed in the Bible be anything less than good for us? … Apologizing for a doctrine is tantamount to impugning the character of God.  Do we believe that hell is a part of the perfection of God’s justice? If not, we have far greater theological problems than those localized to hell.

Indeed.  As Dennis Prager once noted, it would be the epitome of injustice if the evil had the same fate as the righteous.  If we love God, then we will love righteousness and justice.  And if we love righteousness and justice, then the existence of hell is not something we should lament.

hellWhy does somebody need to believe in Jesus to be saved?  Our stock answer is so that they will go to heaven, not hell.  While true in itself, it obscures the real message of the Gospel because it doesn’t explain why Jesus is necessary, only what the consequences are.  It makes God sound petty, and unbelievers are quick to point this out.

A common misconception among Christians and non-Christians alike is that people go to hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus.  This is not true.  People go to hell because they are guilty of sin.  The only way to escape hell is to be innocent of sin, and the only way to be innocent of sin is to accept Christ’s atonement.  Men are not even condemned because they don’t believe. They are condemned already.  Belief is the only thing that can save them from their condemnation.  Their failure to believe simply allows them to reach the destination they were already headed for.  People do not die because they don’t visit the doctor, but because they have a disease.  Our disease is sin.  We will die of this cancer unless we acknowledge that we are incapable of doing anything about it, and seek help from a powerful Doctor.

Other Christians believe people can only go to hell if they have heard of Jesus, and then reject Him.  Those who have not heard of Christ are innocent and should be saved because of their ignorance, providing they followed the revelation of God they did have.  This view is often called the “light doctrine.”  Such a perspective invalidates the Christian message.  It turns redemption on its head, making knowledge of Christ the cause of one’s damnation rather than their only hope of escaping sure judgment.  It presumes that humanity contracts a disease by visiting the doctor, rather than having the disease by nature.  Rest assured that humanity will not escape judgment because of their ignorance.  Even those who have not heard of Jesus have sufficient evidence to know of God’s existence/nature and seek after Him, but all fall short of this revelation and are deserving of judgment (Rom 1-3).  Without Jesus all would be lost.  Jesus is not the cause of anyone’s condemnation—they are condemned already.

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Read the article.

The concept is not new. The technology is not new. But when the American Medical Association is talking about its use in humans, that’s a big deal.

Many Christians believe similar technology will be used as the Mark of the Beast. Others believe this technology is the Mark of the Beast. What do you think?

Since I have been posting about the rapture I thought I would repost something I sent out on my old e-blog a year ago concerning the timing of the rapture.

Many of you know I am post-trib when it comes to the timing of the rapture. I consider this to be a secondary, not a primary doctrine in the overall taxonomy of doctrine, and thus I do not believe differences of opinion on eschatological matters such as this should serve as dividing lines for fellowship. Neither do I normally make a point of actively proselytizing pre-trib Pentecostals to the post-trib side. But when the topic comes up I engage the issue thoroughly and with passion. After all, we are talking about our future hope. The subject is definitely an important one, and I take it rather seriously.

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While we’re on the topic of what “the” rapture is not, it is not secret either. The notion that we will be transported into heaven in the blink of an eye is a misreading of Scripture. Check out my article on the topic on my main website.

I wanted to share with you an observation I think you will find fascinating. (I am indebted to William Arnold for this observation)

The debate over the timing of the rapture in relationship to the second coming of Christ presupposes that the rapture and the second coming are both events, and then seeks to determine when each event will take place in relationship to the other. Is that a valid presupposition? Is it justified by Scripture? Does the Bible describe the rapture as an event?

The only clear passage in Scripture that describes a rapturing of the church is I Thessalonians 4:14-17. Paul wrote:

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (NKJV)

The first thing we should notice is that the word “rapture” does not appear in this passage. In fact the word “rapture” is not found anywhere in Scripture (we get it from the Latin Vulgate). The Greek word translated “caught up” in verse 17 is harpadzo. While the word accurately describes a rapturing of the church, it is a verb, not a noun. The importance of this grammatical fact cannot be overstated. As a verb it describes an action, not an event. The only event Paul is discussing in this passage is the coming of the Lord (“coming” is from the Greek word parousia, which is a noun). The action of being caught up will take place at the event of the coming, but it is not an event in itself capable of being separated from the coming. That’s why William Arnold wrote:

When we realize that Scripture does not speak of the rapture but rather says that at the coming of the Lord we will be raptured (caught up), it sheds new light on the discussion. It is misleading to speak of the rapture and then to ask when the rapture will take place. The Bible only mentions the coming of the Lord and says that when he comes we will be caught up together to meet him. But pre-tribulationists start by talking about the rapture and the second coming as if they were two separate events and then claim that post-tribulationists confuse the two. The fact is, however, that the Bible does not make this distinction. Instead, it uses the word “coming” (parousia) when we would expect to see the word “rapture” if indeed this were a different event.

 

Since Scripture never speaks of our being raptured as an event it is absolutely meaningless to ask when the rapture (action) will take place in relationship to the Coming (event), because there is no “the rapture”—only a “be raptured.” I do not oppose the use of the word “rapture” to describe what will happen at the Coming-event, but I do oppose the use of “rapture” as a noun. It is not an event, but a description of what we will be doing at the Coming-event.

I think this little tidbit of knowledge recasts the whole rapture question and makes the post-trib position all the more clear in Scripture. We are looking for the second coming of the Lord—not the rapture—and there can only be one second coming…not two!

Check out William Arnold’s online book The Post-Tribulation Rapture at www.therapture.org for further reading.